I’ve only done one self portrait before, and it wasn’t an entirely honest process.
Back in 2007 out in Seattle, Washington, I was selected for the “Portraits of Pride” collection from the Seattle LGBT Center. I was in the midst of a massive weight gain due to my battle with alcoholism that I was losing at. In painting myself, I chose to reference a picture from 2003, when I was skinnier and healthier, and upon gallery opening when I had to pose in front of this picture, I was faced with the photographic evidence of my dishonesty.
I never approached the idea after that, even years later when I became clean and sober. The idea of painting myself became such a difficult idea.
While working on the 10x10x10 project with Disney Fine Art, my work became more focused on how I could connect Mickey Mouse to the rest of the world. In this process I began to incorporate moments of time and people to these pieces.
In this I sought to create a portrait series about the stories of others that I’ve met and the architecture of the life they’ve lived (In essence, I would build their stories in their faces). I knew that I had to start out with myself as the conduit to the collection, but I struggled with the idea of painting myself because the idea of doing so would be an emotionally raw experience.
I have for the most part, separated myself, as most artists do, by the artist persona and the raw person underneath. I sort of use this artist persona as a shield to protect me from my real self. While I am working on this, I knew that painting myself as real as I could with all my stories inside of me would be a jumpstart in merging these two identities. I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I was too shielded, too covered, and not raw enough to have that experience. I knew I had to be broken down.
And that eventually happened.
In November, I found myself with my heart smashed to smithereens on a kitchen floor in a rented flat out in the Warm Sands district of Palm Springs, California. I sat there on the floor, blankly looking out into space, with my eyes red from holding back tears. I had let my guard down, and in the process, I was taken out to sea with my emotions whirling up in front of me like a maelstrom. I packed my things, and in an uncomfortable silence for two hours, I drove back to Los Angeles at 4:00am with nothing but heartbreak on my mind. I came home to my apartment, and rather than sleep, I grabbed a canvas, and dragged it upstairs to my neighbors balcony to paint.
And I finally started drawing myself.
At first I drew a building representing Berlin because in the beginning phases I could only think of the gentleman from there and where the heartbreak resulted. But as I started forming my face, the stories of where I came from and what ultimately led to this moment began to spring forward. There were so many other stories that formulated the continual circumstance of my heartache… and with that I sought to compile them.
This piece is called “Secrets Between the Sons of Sailors” and the primary story of myself is built into the fabric of the composition. The buildings in the background represent different cities I’ve lived in (and traveled to for long periods of time to make a dent in my life). In each building carries a specific area or story that existed in that represented city. In the actual portrait are different pivotal points of my childhood to adulthood, and each character has a distinct story attached to it. Here is the breakdown as followed:
A. Background (Clockwise Left to Right)
This is where I met the gentleman where the heartbreak initialized. I was told I was ‘blocked’ in experiencing things, and I sought to open my mind to begin experiencing things.
2. Savannah, GA
I lived in a house off of 40th and Abercorn near Russo’s Fish Restaurant. My landlord was an elderly African-American named Miss McQueen. She had no eyeball in her right eye socket, so it was permanently closed. My best friend Bernadette and I got the apartment because we told her we were newlyweds. Miss McQueen was a Jehovah’s witness and would routinely leave “Watchtower Pamphlets” at our door. Bernadette was a phone psychic and I was a graveyard shift waiter at a 24/7 restaurant called “Paper Moon”. This is where I met my love TJ Thompson. I used to listen to John Coltrane’s “In a Sentimental Mood’ jazz track and stare out my window at the trees covered in Spanish moss and streetlamp light.
3. Marietta, GA
This is where I was primarily raised. I always felt a little out of place, and people would say “Oh Hon” and “Bless his heart” in regards to my state. There is a speech bubble containing crosses which represents my Catholic upbringing and the large religious foundations of that city.
4. Seattle, WA
I lived in Seattle from 2006 to the beginning of 2008. It rained 90% of the time and I was severely depressed there. The drops represent the rain and dually teardrops as I was a huge mess in Seattle.
5. Atlanta, GA
404 represents the area code there. I eventually went to high school at a place called Horizons Academy.. which took me in because I was a runaway and couldn’t fit in at my high school in Marietta. I had to ride the CCT (Cobb County Transit) to MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) at the most Northern train station (LENOX). I rode that train to 5 Points, and transferred to an eastbound train to Inman Park. The total time it took was 2.5 hours to get to school. Eventually a fellow Mariettan named Merilee went to the school too, and we began to carpool.
Later on I moved into an apartment off of 26th and Peachtree (APT C101) in an area called “Vaseline Valley”, which was an old cruising district in the 1970’s (not anymore). I lived behind train tracks which were 8 feet from my window.. which meant at night when the trains would come through, the whole apartment would shake. I frequented “Mary’s Bar” in East Atlanta A LOT. I lived with Bernadette, my roommate in Savannah.
6. Raleigh, NC
On route to Philadelphia, PA, Bernadette and I lost the apartment. Rather than go back, I stayed in Raleigh. I knew a girl there that rescued me when I was a runaway at 17. Since we kept in touch religiously, she offered a place to stay until I could get on my feet. At the time I was driving a sparkling gold Chevy S10 truck that I nicknamed “Liberace”.
7. Philadelphia, PA
I finally got the apartment in Philadelphia. I lived in West Philadelphia (Germantown) off of Rt 1 on Wissahickon. My apartment complex was called “Cricket Court Commons”. .. I worked in King of Prussia.. and often before returning home at night, would park my car near the radio light towers near Manayunk and Conshohocken and sit there for hours watching them sparkle.
8. Athens, GA
At 17 I ran away from Marietta, GA and lived in Athens, GA. My boyfriend at the time was a sophomore at UGA, and he drove 76 miles to get me. He arrived at 2 in the morning with his friend, and threw rocks at my window to get my attention. When I opened up my window he whispered loudly to me “We’ve come to rescue you”. I gathered all my things in three black garbage bags and lowered them out the window, and he put them in the back of his pickup truck. I remember laying my head on his shoulder the entire way back to Athens and feeling so happy that I had finally got away from home.
9. Plano, TX
I lived in Plano, Texas from 4 to 6. This was the hottest place I remember living in. This is also the place where the teachers discovered that I was extremely colorblind. There was an incident where I got terribly injured over a bathroom sink being left on in that house we lived in.
10. Chattanooga, TN
We moved from Plano, TX to Chattanooga, TN and I lived on Signal Mountain from 6 to 8. I went to a catholic school and it was here where they found out that I was severely learning disabled. I eventually went to a ‘special’ school, to where I was held back one grade. We had to drive all the way down the mountain for school, and on the way we’d always pass this house that was shaped like a UFO.
11. Greenville, SC
This is where I was born. All I remember was the massive abundance of flowers and the way they smelled when I lived there.
12. DRUGS and BOOZE- Kind of self explanatory. This is connected to “Power Tripping”, as I did that for a large part of my young adulthood.
13. Santa Cruz, CA
When I lived in Raleigh, NC I traveled a lot around the area. Specifically Blacksburg, VA and Richmond, VA. I met two guys out in RIchmond who were students at UC Santa Cruz. They convinced to visit California once I had arrived to Philadelphia. I visited California and was mesmerized with the west coast. I eventually moved in with them to Santa Cruz, and we lived on Sunnyside Ave. The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean was when I walked down Seabright Avenue. I remember that at first I couldn’t tell where the sky and clouds were in relation to the ocean. I was so overwhelmed that I fell to my knees in the sand and just kneeled there for 20 minutes in awe of what I was seeing.
14. San Francisco, CA
I moved from Santa Cruz to San Francisco as there were more job opportunities in the city. My first apartment was at 840 Geary Street in the Tenderloin district. I slept in a kids bunk bed in a walk in closet for 447.83 a month. I eventually moved to Chinatown / N. Beach on Stockton/Columbus/Green, and then off of 8th and Natoma in SOMA. This city is where I became a drag queen for the legendary night called “Trannyshack” for 5 years.
15. Chicago, IL
I stayed with TJ, the lover I lived with in Savannah Georgia. I was off of Western in the Ukrainian Village. I stayed in the Summer, and it was incredibly hot. I was convinced I was going to move back in with him, until I visited him in the winter and it was FAR too cold for me to live there.
16. Burbank, CA
I moved to Burbank from San Francisco around 2008. Eventually things got so rough with my life that I ended up living in my car off of Chandler Boulevard for a short time. This was the biggest low in my life.
17. Little Armenia, CA
Recovering from Burbank, I moved into a place on Kingsley and Santa Monica in Little Armenia (East Hollywood). This is where I first attempted sobriety and began to recover.
18. Los Angeles, CA
I moved from Little Armenia to an apartment in-between Sunset Blvd and Hollywood Blvd, Highland Ave and LaBrea. I lived next to the Roosevelt Hotel. TJ from Savannah had been living here for a while, and eventually moved back in with me.
19. Paris, France
I flew to Paris to meet with Disney folks in the art division near the parks. This is where my heart and mind first initially opened up. I stayed in a flat off of Rue De Sebastopol in Le Marais.
20. Las Vegas, NV
I began to start doing business in Las Vegas and found myself there for an event with Warner Brothers at the Circus Circus Hotel. I brought my car out there and would often drive out past the strip and into the middle of the desert at night. It was one of the most beautiful things I had witnessed.
21. Palm Springs, CA
This is where the places all ended to. .. and where the breaking of my heart opened up into this project.
B. Portrait (Shirt)
1. Hemeralopia- This is ‘day blindness’, which happens to me a lot with my colorblindness. I have a hard time with receiving light into my eyes which causes ‘photophobia’ and day blindness (especially in-between September and November)
2. Ghosts (Breath)- In Marietta, my sisters and I had a great deal of weird ghost issues in the house. Most notably was the heaving breathing that emanated from our closets (IN ALL OF OUR ROOMS) almost every night.
3. Ninja, Escape- When I was a kid I wanted to grow up and be a ninja. I was fascinated with martial arts movies and watched them constantly. I was going to train to be a ninja so I could escape home. I took martial arts classes, but only got to a yellow belt before ultimately quitting.
4. Xanth. Magical- Post ninja desires I wanted to be a wizard. There was a transitionary period where I specifically wanted to be a “Ninja Wizard”, but after becoming addicted to fantasy novels (specifically the XANTH series by Piers Anthony), I moved straight into wanting to be magical. These novels transported me away from the reality of my surroundings,.. and often I became so wrapped up in my fantasy world, that I could not distinguish anything from my own reality.
5. Air Balloon and OZ: I also was transfixed on “The Wizard of OZ”, but mostly that I could travel away by hot air balloon. When I was 8 I decided that I was going to learn how to make a hot air balloon so I could fly away from home.
6. Album 88 // City Lights Growing // At Night: Growing up past the magical points and realizing the reality of my situation, I began to close myself up in my room. From my window and up the hill was this light that softly breezed above the trees. As I got older, the lights grew stronger. These were the lights of Atlanta slowly getting bigger as the city expanded into our city. I grew up in the country, was raised in suburbia, and left in a metro Atlanta surrounding… and this happened without even moving into another house. I used to turn on the radio and listen to Album 88, a radio station operated by Georgia State University, and watch the lights grow.
7. Eastlake Parking Lot: This is where I had my first kiss (or first anything really) with a guy named Adam. He was the first person I fell in love with. It was right next to the Marshall’s Parking lot.
8. Birmingham Mountains: The 3rd guy I fell in love with was a guy named Marty who lived in Birmingham, AL (before eventually moving to Atlanta). I remember driving my car from Atlanta to Birmingham to see him, and staying in his flat next to The Dreamland BBQ off of 14th. I was amazed with how much of the city was on a mountain, and the storms that happened there.
9. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: I used to drive here every weekend because a large portion of my friends lived there. I was inseparable with a girl named Sarah at the time. We used to hang out at Michaels, and her apartment with a guy named Wes. I was always so excited to get there, and would drive multiple times a month to hang out there.
10. The universe : Listen: The tattoo on my face is a mandala that represents the universe. I have split in half and put next to my ears to signify that “I’m always listening to the universe”.
11. Icons: The diamond represents strength, the light bulb represents ideas, and the mickey mouse hat represents my relationship as a Disney Fine Artist
C. Beard / Hair
1. Sparkles: This was a roller rink in Marietta, GA where I hung out religiously with a group of kids called “The Parkaire Pack” back in high school. We roller-skated a bit, but more-so we loitered around the Parkaire Plaza.
2. Behind Parkaire: This is also where I lost my virginity. I remember thinking at 15 that if I slept with a girl, that God would cure me of my homosexuality. After that I asked for a sign from him, and the Sparkles logo turned off and on. .. and I began crying, which confused my girlfriend at the time.
3. St. Ann’s Courtyard: This is where I had my first kiss, which was with a girl named Rana during youth group night. I was so nervous and terrified.
4. Azalea Drive Moonlight: In Marietta there is a street called Azalea Drive. This street is parallel to the Chattahoochie River, and often I would drive to see the moonlight on the water. It was my favorite place to escape to.
1. May 13th, 1977: This was when I was born
2. Tears: Since I cannot see color, I rely on color codes and the name of the color to determine my color usage. PW6 = titanium white, PV23 = standard violet, PG7 = standard green, PY83 = cadmium yellow, PB36 = cerulean blue, PbK7 = black
3. Los Feliz: This is where I live in Los Angeles at the moment, and where I’ve spent most of my time in Los Angeles.
4. TJ Thompson // Lo$t Angele$: I met TJ in Savannah, GA and spent 15 years of my life being in love with him. We moved back in with each other in 2011 in Los Angeles. While TJ was sober when he lived with me, he did have many years where he struggled with his sobriety. The day before his birthday, he relapsed and OD’ed. I found him when I was trying to call him because the bathroom door was locked. When the cellphone rang from inside the bathroom I panicked and used a butter knife to open the door… and that is where I found him. TJ is the next portrait in the collection.